Monday, September 26, 2011

Collaborative Decision-making Uses Science Effectively

William Nuttle, Organizer for CERF 2011 Synthesis Sessions

Collaborative decision-making engages scientists fully

Sometimes, doing good science is not enough. Increasingly, scientists feel the call to address the needs and concerns of society in their research and to become personally involved in tackling difficult environmental problems. Often times, they are rewarded only by being marginalized and having their work misrepresented in contentious policy debates.

It also matters how decisions are being made. Karl, Susskind and Wallace (2007) believe that we need to change the traditional compliance-based approach to dealing with complex environmental issues. The traditional approach generates “winners” and “losers.” In the resulting adversarial environment, opposing sides use the uncertainties inherent in any scientific finding to delay decisions and pit scientists against each other.

Their solution is to adopt a collaborative approach to decision-making to replace the compliance-based approach. Science enters into collaborative decision-making through the process of joint fact finding. The emphasis in join fact finding is on shared learning within the community of people who are most affected by the decision. Karl, Susskind and Wallace claim that join fact finding “ensure[s] that good science is used in value-laden decisions and contributes to stable and effective public policy.”

Joint fact finding enlists stakeholders into a process of identifying critical unknowns, defining precisely the questions to be asked of research, and interpreting and applying the results. The process depends on a convener, usually a regulatory agency, that has the responsibility to act as the final decision-making body. The convener often relies on a “professional neutral” to facilitate the process.

Collaborative decision-making engages scientists differently. Scientists play their traditional role, providing technical information needed to scope problems, generate useful forecasts, and assist in selecting among possible courses of action. But, a greater degree of engagement is also required. Scientists must be engaged with stakeholders and policy makers throughout the decision-making process to help frame the questions that can be answered and assure that the scientific findings are communicated and understood by everyone.

This post relates to Topic 3: Management applications to be discussed during the Synthesis Sessions at CERF 2011. 

Karl, H.A., L.E. Susskind, and K.H. Wallace, 2007. A dialogue, not a diatribe: effective integration of science and policy through joint fact finding. Environment 49(1):20-34.

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